Not only is this column my first as a member of the Collegium, my election as executive minister of Wider Church Ministries (WCM) is also a first in several ways. I am the first female, the first naturalized person and the first scientist elected to lead WCM. I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your affirmation and encouragement. I realize that for many UCC members, I am an unknown entity.
A friend in Connecticut asked a General Synod delegate, "Who was elected to replace Dale Bishop?" The response: "An Indian woman whose name I do not know." Well, I want to tell you a bit more about this Indian woman who resigned from the University of North Texas after teaching biology and genetics for 20 years to respond to God's call.
A third-generation Christian, born in Jabalpur, India, I am a product of missionary schools. For Christians in India, who constitute less than 3 percent of the population, Christianity is a way of life. My ministry began early and included everything you can imagine - teaching Sunday school, doing vacation Bible school, singing in the choir, participating in youth fellowship and even playing organ in the church. For the last 35 years, I have worked as a volunteer in many settings of the UCC, including the Hunger Task Force, Science and Technology Task Force, United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, Coordinating Center for Women, Office for Church in Society and, more recently, on Justice and Witness Ministries' board of directors. I also represent the UCC on the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, where I serve as one of three vice-presidents.
Clearly there's a gene for volunteerism on my X chromosome that is abundantly expressed.
I face this new challenge with joy and excitement. I am a "cockeyed optimist." My vision for the UCC family is one in which we all commit ourselves to God's mission, to which we all respond by deeds and not just words.
I pledge to keep you informed of the work being done on your behalf, and I challenge each one of you to take seriously what it means to be a missionary in the 21st century. I hope for a day when the gap between the national and local church is bridged by our combined efforts of trust, energy, enthusiasm, excitement and, most of all, by our combined efforts to bring justice to all of God's children. I truly believe that with your prayers and support and God's grace, we will be successful.
"Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill be made low" (Isaiah 40: 4-5). I hope that the lines of two-way communication between national and local settings will increase to keep our vision alive. Communication is the key to success. I invite you to stay in touch with me. I pledge to do my utmost to meet your expectations.
God bless you all.
Olivia Masih White is executive minister of Wider Church Ministries and one of the UCC's five-member Collegium of Officers. Elected unanimously at General Synod 24 in July, she replaces Dale L. Bishop, who chose not to seek another four-year term. White began her work on Oct. 1.